There’s an old saying in politics: Never, ever say anything that can be contradicted by a document.
Going up against the printed word – “on paper, in black and white” -- you’ll lose every time.
Treasury Board President Tony Clement can say “sure” to a Commons committee asking for documents when he really means “no” and get away with it.
He can say he merely “recommended” spending millions on projects in his riding when he actually “approved” them. He can say almost anything and like in Alice in Wonderland words can mean whatever he wants them to mean. That’s part of being a Conservative cabinet minister.
Sometimes the plans go awry. Clement became a victim of his own word play this week when from deep in the public service departmental files out came a document that made it clear it was Clement himself who had approved $47,8 million worth of banal infrastructure programs for his own riding as part of the G-8 boondoggle in Huntsville, Ont. in 2010.
It was money Clement used that parliament had voted be used to fix up Canada-U.S. border crossings.
Under questioning before a Commons committee Nov. 2, Clement denied he had done anything wrong. It was all the doing of then-Public Works minister John Baird. He said Baird had approved everything. All he had done was talk to a few mayors in his riding who had made recommendations.
“Sure, sure. ” Now tell us the Pope isn’t Catholic and a bear doesn’t visit the woods.
The truth came out because NDP MP Charlie Angus used the access to information law to get the information from various mayors in Clement’s riding.
They had gotten all sorts of “goodies” in return for playing ball with Clement: a $2-million boat that don’t float, million-dollar public toilets built out in the middle of a farmer’s field, a gazebo and picnic tables that nobody from the G-8 ever used.
There were fire hydrants installed half-way below sidewalk level. There was also a miniature lighthouse carved out of a single tree trunk for a million dollars. Oh yes, a $25 million hockey arena with two rinks in case somebody from the G-8 wanted a quick game or two. Bye-bye $50 million bucks.
Think of it as Tony Clement’s one-man sponsorship scandal.
Clement who came into parliament with a 27-vote majority ended up winning the 2011 election by 14,000 votes. Those mayors were grateful.
Angus has had enough. He wants Clement to turn himself in to police before the session starts up again in February.
It’s already too late to sell off Clement’s pork barrel spoils and use the money at the border where parliament legally intended it. But it’s not too late for Clement to learn his lesson.
He wouldn’t be in this mess with his job on the line if he had known that secret “black-and-white” departmental document would eventually come out. That may be the only lesson Clement learns.